September 25, 2013

Thoughts Après Paris

You know the feeling before a big event – including a highly anticipated one – of excitement mixed with fear?  Though Paris was The Singular Most Desirable Place to Go on Vacation, I grappled a bit with the excitement/fear feeling leading up to the trip.  And I think it's because, traveling – much like life – is the kind of thing where there are a multitude of unknowns, and that can be a little scary.  You can plan something down to the nanosecond, but there are always curveballs – some good, some bad, some in between – that inevitably happen. 

No caption necessary.
Though there were very few negative curveballs that happened during the trip, the couple quasi-"negative" ones that did occur made it all the more interesting.  Ultimately, it was everything I would have expected Paris to be, and then some.  And I don’t mean that in the Paris is so posh and perfect kind of way (because it totally isn’t), but rather that my visit was full-bodied and life-changing, which I think is the case whenever you experience something first-hand.  In these kind of experiences, perspective grows, changes, and evolves, which is what traveling to new places is really all about.  So, herewith are some of my thoughts and photos après Paris:
Cliché as it sounds, the food really is as amazing as they say it is in Paris.  Overwhelmed by all the restaurants there were during the planning process, I left the food planning up to complete spontenaity.  When we landed in Montmartre where our apartment was, however, every restaurant we ate at was a knockout.  From beef bourguignon to banana-and-Nutella-filled crepes, fondue to Vietnamese cuisine (of which Paris is regarded highly for),  French onion soup to croissants and cravette (chocolate pastry), and toasts au saumon fume to cravette, it was all incredible.  None of it was particularly "heart healthy" or "plant based", but partaking it in all was part of the sensorial experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
French Onion Soup (which I had no less than three times during the trip)
In Paris, nearly everyone smokes, no one wears baseball caps (though I did), and people are partial to black.  For a major city, its people are also rather conservative (not a lot of leg and cleavage) on the street, though TV is a different story.  Also, Italian cuisine is akin to Mexican cuisine in the U.S. - widely prevalent and well done.

Clearly I rebelled against the French aesthetic and dressed for comfort (necessary when you're walking 10+ miles per day).
Versailles was probably as crowded as the Louvre though I wouldn't have known that had I not gone.  It was fun to take the train outside the city and see a bit of French suburbia.  And while walking around the inside of the palace along with hundreds of other tourists left something to be desired, the grounds themselves were quite spectacular.  Personally, however, I much preferred the Palace and Jardin du Luxembourg, which we stumbled upon in St. Germain, taking in an outdoor jazz performance. 

Everything in Paris is freaking expensive, except for, ironically, bottled water.  Food, clothing, transportation, even deodorant(!) are all substantially more expensive than in the United States.  And, sales tax is a whopping 19.6%.   But, of course, the shopping is also some of the best in the world, so it's hard not to partake, at least a little bit, especially at the city's abundant perfumeries.  Annick Goutal, Fragonard, and the city's numerous pharmacies (which house some of France's best cosmetics) were complete gems. 
Rue Chappe (street view from apartment)
Parisians are extremely stingy with napkins.  We went to the same café every single morning for breakfast and along with utensils came one tiny napkin tucked in a basket; likewise, at “restaurantes rapide” (such as at the airport) napkins were nowhere to be found. I’m not sure if people wipe their hands on their clothes, but napkins are far from prevalent. Call me a wasteful American, but I like a little napkin action with my meal. 

Raw Beauty (view of Luxembourg in distance)
Attempting to speak French was actually quite fun.  I didn’t experience any rude Parisians, and in fact, the majority of them were quite friendly, even if some of them weren’t entirely fluent in English themselves. Nonetheless, the phrases “Parlez-vous anglais?”, “Je voudrais . . .” at restaurants, and “Bonjour”, “Merci”, and “Au revoir/Bonsoir” went a long way. 

You can reserve these pods along the Seine to have your very own picnic party.  How cool is that?

Paris has an underbelly, just like everywhere (and everything) else. Case in point being the area surrounding southern Montmartre (also coincidentally home of the Red Light District). Unfortunately, this was our entry into the city and therefore the first we saw of Paris when we arrived.  (For the record, there were no hooker sightings, just some grit and grime similar to a second-world country.)  I wish it had been the last sight instead of the first, because I probably would’ve appreciated it more, but in any event, the City of Lights can’t be all perfume and posh fashions.   

Bakery kitty.  (Note: Not taken in Paris's underbelly.)

September 17, 2013

Thoughts Before Paris

  1. The one thing that has been stressing me out since booking my flights for Paris was the tight connection at Newark.  Upon checking in last night, United gave me an option to switch flights at $75 per ticket, allowing me to get an earlier flight from PWM to EWR, therefore extending my connection time to do a liberal three hours.  So, I said heck with it: $150 is a small price to pay for peace of mind and to avoid potentially being stranded in Newark (rather than the City of Lights) for a day.  You only live once, right?
  2. The great thing about long flights is that I have an excuse to buy books at random.  (I will admit, I was a tiny bit tempted to pick up 50 Shades of Grey, but I decided to hold off on that bandwagon for a bit.)   Instead, I bought AM Homes’s (one of my all-time favorite authors) May We Be Forgiven and Domenica Ruta’s addiction memoir, With or Without You.  Both have received wide critical acclaim, in addition to being touted as Huffington Post’s Best Book Club Books of the fall.  I prefer solo book clubs anyway.
  3. The other day my good friend Liz told me that something happened to her in yoga – she cried. “Luckily,” she said, “I was in the back row, but crying and yoga is SO cathartic.  It’s like peanut butter and jelly."  How awesome is that?  Now I want to try it.  (Maybe after Paris.)
  4. I love fall. I love pumpkin. I love spice.  But this year it seems like the pumpkin-spiced-themed everything has kind of gotten outta control: candles, perfume, coffee drinks, car fresheners.  But hey, maybe that’s just me.  (It’s probably just me.)
  5. My friend Brandon sent me an email last Wednesday morning that said, “Stop whatever you’re doing and get the new Janelle Monáe album.”  As a fan of hers since the 2010 release of The ArchAndroid (also amazing), I listened to him.  The Electric Lady is beautifully varied, featuring other genre-bending artists like Esperanza Spalding, Solange, Miguel, and Prince.  If you only listen to one track, I suggest “What An Experience.”  Wow.

September 11, 2013

Paris in a Week - Eeek!

Next week my husband and I leave for Paris, the land of all things I love like good bread and perfume (Seriously, what else does a girl  need in life?).  And, while a part of me is obviously giddy, because Hello! I’m going to freaking PARIS!), the other part of me has actually been a bit nervous and stressed in the months leading up to the trip, worrying about all the potentials for travel delays and debacles. 

As the trip is drawing near, I’ve realized how the unknown of something – whether it be a trip or life in general – can actually be quite exciting.  Developing this perspective has allowed me to let go of the fear and worries and to just embrace the unknowns, which is really quite freeing.  Nonetheless, a little planning never hurt anyone, so I thought I’d write a little post on Paris: "The Meaning of Lunch" Way. 

Similar to my approach to life, I am equal parts spontaneous and structured, which basically implies that I like to have a plan and then have the option of rebelling against that plan if deemed appropriate.  So, in compiling my somewhat subject-to-change travel itinerary, I am opting not to do something just because it’s the It thing to do or merely to check something off a box.  (This is precisely why I’m skipping the Louvre this time, inspired partly by this great post from The Everywhereist, one of my favorite blogs, although I'm still planning on hitting the Eiffel Tower, obviously.)

Without further adieu, here are a few pearls of wisdom I've learned in my research:
  1. Pack light, and ideally, take only a carry-on.  My friend strongly suggested this fine little gem from Eagle Creek, which I was fortunate enough to find brand-spanking new at a major discount through eBay; I also snagged these handy packing cubes to pack everything nice and tight.  (I am a bit OCD when it comes to packing, so I know this whole system will come in handy for future travels as well.)
  2. Take a little nightcap for the red-eye.  Some suggest Excedrin PM; others suggest half an Ambien.  We'll see what I can get my hands on. 
  3. Stay at an apartment instead of the local Sheraton.  Travel + Leisure did a great write-up on this past spring and other people have spoken very highly of the site. I booked an adorable little apartment in Montmartre (northern Paris) through the site for ~$145/night, which includes a kitchen, a washer and drier, free WiFi, nestled in a quaint little courtyard.  It will not be as convenient as staying in a hotel perhaps, but it's quite a bit more affordable and will offer a more authentic experience living as the locals do, which for me, is in many ways more important than cookie-cutter convenience. 
  4. Paris is the land of pick-pockets.  No need to stress unnecessarily, but knowledge is power, hence why I've purchased a nice little variety of "money belts," including this semi-sexy little number from Maidenform, which bonus: was only $8.  I also picked up a two-for-one around-the-neck and waist belts through Amazon too.  
  5. The French don't care so much that you aren't fluent in their native tongue, only that you try.  And really, isn't that the case with, like, everything?  I picked up a lightweight pocket translator guide by the Lonely Planet and downloaded a couple apps (SayHi and iTranslate) to my iPhone, though I will likely defer to my book since I want to limit international use of my data plan. 
  6. Parisians are more formal than us sloppy Americans, so no fanny packs and sweats for this sister.  Black and dark skinny jeans, cute tops, and comfortable flats will be my go-tos, which luckily isn't much of a deviation from my work attire.  Nonetheless, I created a little inspirational Pinterest board of outfit ideas.
  7. Do what the French do, even if it isn't your thing.  Call me crazy, but I prefer vodka over wine, and if I were to really go out on a limb, I actually prefer cake over booze, but while in Paris I fully intend on imbibing on the local vino, especially since the table wine is supposedly far superior than some of the better wines that you can buy in the U.S.  I also fully intend on partaking in French butter, because that's also supposed to be quite special.  When in Paris, right?

September 7, 2013

A Side Dish of Inspiration

In my continued journey of learning to be, here is a little side dish of quotes that have resonated with me this week.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
  • "Life consists of rare, isolated moments of the greatest significance, and of innumerably many intervals, during which at best the silhouettes of those moments hover about us. Love, springtime, every beautiful melody, mountains, the moon, the sea – all these speak completely to the heart but once, if in fact they ever do get a chance to speak completely. For many men do not have those moments at all, and are themselves intervals and intermissions in the symphony of real life." - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • "You can participate in the dance of creation and be active without attachment to outcome and without placing unreasonable demands upon the world:  Fulfill me, make me happy, make me feel safe, tell me who I am.  The world cannot give you those things, and when you no longer have such expectations, all self-created suffering comes to an end. - A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

  • "When we identify with a small self, we are perceiving ourselves as a cluster of ocean waves, not recognizing that we are made of ocean. When we realize our true self is ocean, the familiar pattern of waves—our fears and defensiveness, our wants and busyness—remains a part of us, but it does not define us." - Tara Brach

  • "The next moment is always fresh and open. You don’t have to get frozen in an identity of any kind." - Pema Chodron

  • “One thing we do know: Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.” - A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

  • "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain